(Talk delivered at the United
New Delhi on January 10, 2001)
the dreams we shared did not come true…what seemed simple
to us turned out to be tormentingly difficult".
(Boris Yeltsin's lament while departing)
" He who does not regret the passing of socialism has no heart, but he who
wants to bring it back has no head"
(Vladimir Putin summing up his philosophy not long after he was elected in
a phrase that has become famous throughout Russia)
historical experience is anything to go by then the speed and
manner of disintegration of the Soviet
Union (or the Russian Empire so to say) has no parallels. It
was unique in more ways than one. Great empires of yore broke
up on the death of a great leader, on account of external invasions,
internal strife or the pushing back of the Empire from without.
None of these factors could strictly be applied to the dismantling
of the Soviet Empire. The outside world - as well as the Republics
comprising the Soviet Union - were both taken by surprise at
the bewildering speed of events that led to the break up. Remarkably,
many of the non-Russian republics were initially reluctant to
face the prospects of life outside the Soviet fold.
By hindsight there appears to have been
inevitability about the outcome though not its pace. The former
can be attributed to the abating vigour of a once ascendant ideology
in the face of the relentless onslaught of capitalism at its
naked best - or worst, for those inclined to look at it that
way. The Soviet Union did not collapse due to external aggression
or unmanageable internal strife. On the face of it, it was relatively
as stable as any large, heterogeneous entity can hope to be in
this day and age. Economic collapse and loss of faith in the
system - again more perhaps at the centre rather than the periphery
- helped the disembodiment.
The counter-revolution could be deemed
to have commenced from the time that Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary-General
of the Communist Party, ushered in the
new age of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction). Somewhere
along the way he lost control of the process, which led ultimately to the
dissolution of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Russian
Federation, as part of
the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991. Gorbachev was not
spared either. He fell by the wayside; as elements more powerful than he
moved in to exploit the situation.
post-collapse phase of the Soviet Union also seems to be coming
to an end. According to Yevgeny Kozhokin:
"Today, we are witnessing a gradual ideological recreation of Russia.
The Soviet past and the Russian past and present are less frequently confronted,
but are accepted and evaluated as parts of the whole". (Yevgeny
Kozhokin, The Times of India, October 4, 2000)
This paper relates to the Resurgence
of Russia. Naturally, there would be doubt in some quarters as
to whether Russia could again
attain super power status.
While this aspect will be examined at some length it might not be out
of place, at the very outset, to spell out some of the major attributes
of a super power
in the new century. Briefly, these could be tabulated as: ability
for (rapid) force projection anywhere in the world; credible
against all comers; financial might; technical might; and last,
but not least, the
intellectual vigour of its academic institutions. By these criterion
any country besides the USA could be said to be in the super power
category - not only as things stand, but in the foreseeable future
There could be several ways of looking
at the subject under review. The method chosen in this presentation
examines the issue from
the following perspectives:
-Conditions in Russia
-The Demographic Dynamic
-Russia 'in' Asia
-Russia 'in' Europe
-Russia and USA
There would be many more aspects that
cry for inclusion in a longer narrative. These have perforce
to be excluded
in a short presentation.
Russian Federation sprawls 17 million square kilometers in Europe
and Asia. Notwithstanding its geographical
spread the once powerful country today merits a place only at
number 71 out of the 174 countries on the UN's Human Development
Index which lists countries according to literacy, life expectancy,
schooling, population growth and per capita GDP. The average
life expectancy of Russian men is 59, fourteen years less than
their counterparts in the West - a reflection of poor living
conditions and widespread alcoholism. By current trends the Russian
population will decline from 146 million to 124 million by 2015.
As if that was not enough, Russia's massive external debt stands
at 170 billion US $. It requires $1 billion a month of principal
alone to be repaid. Russia needs hard cash from swift arms sales,
even throwing caution to the winds in some cases.
It would be tempting, hence, to assume that the end of the twentieth century
marks the lowest point in the falling trajectory of Russia's gradual rise to
super power (hood) since the Russian expansion under Peter the Great nearly
three centuries ago. But the realisation comes soon thereafter that Russia
has stared at the abyss before; in the same century, at the very beginning.
Conditions for Russia could hardly have been grimmer than at the time when
Lenin took power. The country not only recovered, but went on to challenge,
thereafter, the combined might of the Western powers for the best part of the
century. It would indeed be a foolhardy person who would feel emboldened to
right finis to the Russian tale.
Already there are tentative signs of
revival. GDP rose by 8.4% in 1999, although in part due to high
oil prices. The State Duma on December 8, 2000 endorsed
the old Soviet anthem proposed by Yeltsin's successor. Mr. Putin balanced
the anthem choice with the tricolour flag and the double-headed
eagle, which date
from the tsarist times and were reintroduced by Yeltsin. Both symbols were
also approved by the Parliament. Putin justified the proposal by saying that
he hoped the state symbols belonging to different periods of Russian history
would cement the nation. Russian liberals protested against the Soviet anthem
as a tune of the totalitarian regime that had been personally approved by
the Communist dictator, Josef Stalin. Many read symbolic meaning
into the revival
of the Soviet anthem on December 8, ten years to the day after Mr. Yeltsin
dismantled the Soviet Empire.
Russian resurgence, however, cannot really take place without the satisfactory
resolution of the major problems confronting Russia. These include: population
decline; ecological restoration; tackling Islamic terrorism; revitalisation
of the economy; better harmonisation with the Republics of the erstwhile
USSR; strengthening of ties with Europe; dealing with the demographic swamping
could manifest itself from the South.
Not very long back - merely three decades
ago - the other superpower, USA suffered a major setback in Vietnam.
It was an ignominious defeat for American
Along with the debacle in Southeast Asia came the demoralisation of the
American armed forces, especially the army. Indiscipline, corruption
and drugs added
to the problem. The US army pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Not
only did they recover the US armed forces are once again in the
is to be seen whether the demoralisation that set in the Russian troops
the pullback from Afghanistan and continues with the imbroglio in Chechnya
can be overcome before the country plunges into an existential gloom.
recent leaked study, 'Forecast of the financial and economic
support for the organisational development of the Russian armed
forces for the
2010', pointed out that the promised 3.5 per cent of GDP for defence
would only enable Russia to support its 1.2 million-man armed
forces if economic
growth reached and sustained the level of 8-10 per cent per annum. With
a growth rate of only 0.5-1.5 per cent, the country would have to halve
strength or risk collapse. Russia has already sunk to the status of a
second rank power in respect of aircraft production. Even between
1991 and 1996,
output fell by 50 per cent in respect of civilian aircraft and by 88-90
per cent for
military. With military demand so low, the output of scientific establishments
reached a critical level that led to 'the disintegration of scientific
and industrial collectives whose development took decades'.
Experimental and design bureau are working
at 50 per cent of the 1990 level with money shortages hindering
the development of new aircraft
They no longer attract young specialists who see no future in them
but only low pay (half the national average and one tenth the
enterprises). The teams that for so long in the Soviet period successfully
compensated for technological backwardness by clever design have now
been scattered to the winds. Their recreation would be difficult
well prove to be
impossible. Consequently, when those weapons and equipment that are
already in the procurement pipeline come out at the other end
prospects for the development of the next generation of weapons are
not overly bright.
(NVO, No.2/1999; an interview
with the new Air Force Commander-in-Chief Col. Gen. A. M. Kornukov
by Interfax, June 10, 1998)
One of the factors that
could play a major role in any reversal would be the leadership
provided by the Yeltsin's successor. The
Policy Concept issued on July 11, 2000 reaffirms its determination
to pursue a balanced foreign policy between the East and West and
with major Asian countries like China and India. Presently, Russia
is in a state of adjustment. The real policy thrusts indicating
by Russia will emerge by about 2005 after Putin has been at the head
for at least that length of time. Mid term corrections would, of
Russia bespeaks vastness, on a scale
unknown elsewhere in the world. In keeping with this bigness
its leaders too assume a dimension commensurate with the country's
size. The word 'great' comes naturally to mind. Not necessarily
in the manner of the honorific bestowed to some of the past
rulers by posterity. Peter the Great, Catherine the Great. In
century Lenin and Stalin who not only dominated their country
absolutely, but who projected Russian communism onto the global
canvas. Even Yeltsin was not insignificant as a leader - though
possibly in the negative sense - seeing his contribution to
the rapid downslide of a once proud people. He did not comprehend
the survival imperative entailed in the near total dependence
on social security of a populace that had been living under
communist dispensation for the best part of a century. It is
not easy to switch overnight from one system to another without
horrendous social costs, leading even to the ebbing of the
will to live, the will to work. It has lessons for China and
both of whom seem bent upon succumbing to external pressures
to take the fast track to globalisation. The last decade has
been economically devastating for Russia. According to some
estimates, there are 50 million Russians below the poverty line,
fully or partially unemployed. Ten million refugees are homeless.
The Yeltsin era accentuated Russia's
intrinsic weaknesses: vodka, environmental
decline, demographic enfeeblement and ethnic dissension. The rapid post-Soviet
decline, the excesses of the past, and the Yeltsin years saw the diminishment
of the country's global standing to such an extent that the world took
serious note of Russia solely on account of the nuclear equation
as a means to power
projection. It led in turn to the drying up of future leading edge research,
due to financial stringency and the initial flight of scientific talent.
Russian people expect that President Putin would be able to
curb the free for all nature of the post-Soviet politics, discipline
who have accumulated unacceptable levels of power and wealth, and impose
what he calls a dictatorship of laws on Russia. There is a growing
the people that the darkest period could be behind them. A recent report
by the consulting firm, McKinsey, mentions that Russia has the real
capital for a growth rate of 8 per cent. Barely two years ago, the Russian
economy was in ruins. It had defaulted on its foreign loans, and inflation
had risen from 5.5 per cent in the first half of the year (1998) to 84
per cent in December. Moscow's control over its 89 regions was slipping.
then Russia has experienced a turnaround. Many in Russia feel that the
years 1992 to 1999 are beginning to fade like a bad dream. Most wage
reportedly been paid off. Real incomes are rising and possibly the pensions
as well. There appears to have been an improvement in the investment
outlook, with some companies reporting plans to expand investment
in the coming
Having quoted from the Mckinsey study
it would be worthwhile to look at global oil trends because of
on the oil
the rise in oil prices the rosy tint of the report may have had a different
colouring. Some experts feel that the soaring oil prices are bound
to decline considerably by spring. A comparison that comes to
prosperity and social stability' in the 1970s. It was attributed by
some to the Middle East crisis and the formation of OPEC in 1973.
here an article by Valentina Feodorova that appeared recently in The
Statesman entitled, 'Where Ho, Mr. Putin': "Russia tends to be radical. This is its main disease. We chose the most
radical — communist — of all-possible variants of socialism. We
also chose the most radical, neo-liberal, variant of capitalism, which is a
kind of Western fundamentalism. The political pendulum of Russia moved from
communist radicalism to a neo-liberal one. We could expect it to move back,
for this is what pendulums do. But a part of the older and the bulk of the
middle-aged generations that experienced both variants are not ready for extremes
today. They preferred Putin to Zyuganov at the 2000 elections. The people want
to live in the new way, but in conditions of order. The pendulum has stopped
a little left of the centre, but not in the far left corner. That Putin has
kept back the movement of the pendulum is the main and new factor of Russian
Fedorova, The Statesman, September 25, 2000)
Putin is very much a product of the Marxist ideology that flourished
so long in Russia. Hence it might not be out
of place to
Lucak on Lenin:
"The Leninist theory and tactic of
compromise is, therefore, only the objective, logical corollary
of the Marxist dialectical - historical recognition that, although
men make their own history, they cannot do so in circumstances
chosen by themselves
but in circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted
from the past".
Lucack, Lenin, A study on the Unity of his Thoughts.
The Russian leader has been moving
fast to tighten his grip on power. He has pushed through legislation
to remove powerful
from the upper
house of Parliament and turn it into a subservient instrument
of his policy. He is also attempting to rein in Russia's
away from them control over courts and law-enforcement
agencies. The same zealousness
is manifest in his control of television that is by far the
influential source of information in a country that spans
zones. The Putin
dispensation has spelled out its security and foreign policy
doctrines. Moscow recognises
that many of its security challenges are internal, acknowledging
in the process that its economic difficulties have led
to terrorism, organised
crime and narcotics.
Mr. Putin believes that the entire Central Asian Region could
if the Taliban reach the Tajikistan border. On the economic
front realisation may have come that for global competitiveness
needs to revive
its capital goods base. In this regard Europe and especially
play a big role.
Good governance could help in ensuring return of capital
The world and, more importantly, the
Russian people themselves would be anxious to take a peek behind
for there is a
mystery and mystique
attaching to the persona of the Russian President. Is it
greater than the substance? The judo black belt does
add to the carefully
- macho image. It assists in a manner of speaking to reinforce
the arm-twisting being resorted to bring a semblance
of order into
the free for all that
had developed in the Yeltsin years. However, the Russian
leader lest he again provide
legitimacy to the earlier methods of governance in the
Soviet Union should keep in mind a saying attributed to Talleyrand:
'It is possible' he said, 'to do many
things with a bayonet, but one cannot sit on one.'
distinct from India, which suffers from a so-called population
Russia is beset by what
might be described as a demographic implosion — that is
there are fewer and fewer of them every year. Over the past decade
the population of Russia has shrunk by nearly 5 million people,
or half a million annually. Not only has the vast country got
fewer people, the balance between young and old is shifting disastrously.
By the year 2003 there will be only two working age Russians
for each pensioner and within 20 years the ratio will become
one-to-one - the point of economic non-viability would have been
reached. The growing mass of pensioners will gobble up any economic
demographic crisis has come about because post-Soviet Russia,
in many ways,
is afflicted with many
problems of the advanced countries combined with growing
problems that beset developing countries. For over two decades birthrates
have been plunging as well-educated, urbanised young Russians
put off having children
well into their 30s. The current birth rate is about 1.3 children per woman,
well below the 2.3 children per woman that would be required to sustain the
population - a phenomenon not unlike that in Western Europe and North America.
The difference being that over the past decade death rates among productive
adults in their 30s and 40s have risen dramatically. This is due to a post-Soviet
mix of bad news, including mass impoverishment, deteriorating environmental
conditions, skyrocketing rates of alcoholism, the return of formerly — eradicated
diseases like cholera and tuberculosis, more industrial accidents and two
bloody civil wars against the separatist republic of Chechnya. A recent UNDP
shows that under mass privatisation, nearly one-third of Russia's population
has slipped under the poverty line.
Putin has warned that if the Far Eastern region is not economically
developed and integrated with
the rest of the country, then it is likely that
the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages may overtake the Russian language
there. Maritime province governor, Yevgeny Nazdarenko has made a call for
moving about 15 million people from the Central regions to
be settled in Amur, Khabarovsk
and Primorsky (Maritime) areas in order to create some balance with the
population in the adjoining Chinese regions.
The extract reproduced from a famous
book written at the beginning of the twentieth century does not
leave room for doubt:
those (coming) days all the people of the earth will rush forth
from their dwelling places. Great will be the strife, strife
the like of which has
never been seen in this world. The yellow hordes of Asians will set forth from
their age-old abodes and will encrimson the fields of Europe in oceans of blood.
There will be, oh yes, there will-Tsushima! There will be-a new Kalka! Kulikovo
Field, I await you!
And on that day the final sun will rise
in radiance over my native land. Oh
Sun, if you do not rise, then, oh Sun, the shores of Europe will sink beneath
the heavy Mongol heel, and the foam will curl over those shores. Earthborn
creatures once more will sink to the depths of the oceans, into chaos, primordial
Arise, oh Sun! " -(Andrei Bely, Petersburg p.65)
It is estimated that vast numbers of Chinese
settlers could already have pushed across the far-eastern border
with Russia and the erstwhile Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. The
exodus commenced after the break up of the Soviet Union on account
of the sparseness of the population and to meet the requirement
of cheap labour. What the population profile would be in that part
of Russia in thirty, fifty or seventy years from now could be anybody's
guess. The demographic threat from the South, linked to Islamic
terrorism could ultimately become a bigger disaster for Russia
than any threat faced by the country in the last century. The urge
for quick economic gains is making the Russian planners abandon
prudence by supplying the most modern technology to those who would
be likely to develop into the most potent threat for Russia in
the coming decades.
begin with it would be interesting to list the countries that
were the greatest beneficiaries of
the fall of the Soviet Union: USA, East Europe, Western European
countries, China, Pakistan, (in that order). Central Asian Republics?
The question mark denotes a Yes - No condition. It is important
to keep this aspect at the back of the mind. It is not only relevant
to Russia's strategic posture in the short and medium term, but
also for the inter se accommodations that might or might not
take place as Russia again starts groping for a more balanced
relationship with yesterday's adversaries as well as the potential
adversaries of tomorrow.
Russia as is well known straddles both
continents, Asia and Europe. Till Peter the Great turned his
attention westwards and forced the Westernisation of his
country, Russia could be said to have been more deeply involved with Asia
than Europe for more reasons than one. It was this attraction
for the Orient that
prompted Dostoievski to say in the latter half of the nineteenth century:
us Asia and we shall create no difficulties for Europe"
novelist also said: It would be useful for Russia to forget Petersburg
for some time and to turn her
soul toward the East". (RK Dasgupta in The
Statesman referring to A Aronson, 'Europe Looks at India'.
With this background it is intended to examine Russia's relationship with
some of the countries in Asia that could be deemed to be important for Russia
in the foreseeable future. Due to several constraints only those aspects
will be highlighted that in the writer's opinion have a direct bearing on
In the past the former Soviet Union had
a 7500km border with China (in comparison India's frontier with
China after the latter's occupation of Tibet measures 4700 km.
Together they constituted 80% of China's external borders). Today
Russia's borders have come down to 4300 km, less than that of
China and India. The Russian/Soviet border with China was determined
by the Treaty of Aigun (1858); the Treaty of Peking 1860; the
Treaty of St. Petersburg 1881; and subsequent borders protocols.
However, the Chinese regarded only the much earlier 1689 Treaty
of Nerchinsk as equal, which placed Russia's border in the Far
East as far North as the Sea of Okhotsk.
There has been talk of a Russia-China-India
axis. It does not appear to be feasible unless three conditions
obtain from the point of view of Russia. The
first condition would be for Russia to become as economically strong as China.
Secondly, the demographic threat from China should have virtually disappeared
from the horizon - a near impossibility going by the present demographic
trends obtaining in the region. The third aspect relates to the
maintenance of technical
and quantitative superiority in the very advanced weapons systems category.
The situation could change fast for the worse should Russia continue to throw
caution to the winds by transferring advanced technologies to China for short-term
gains. China has been ably tapping the cash-and-carry opportunities in the
Russian market, picking up a number of sensitive technologies. (Even the
United States was quick to buy advanced Russian space and rocket
in the early nineties). Ironically, because of these transfers and sales
China might end up replacing Russia as the second power sometime
in the future.
the moment there is talk of multi-polarity. In actual fact multi-polarity
is a staging point towards just two poles; that could re-emerge
after China has
narrowed the military technology gap with USA - with Russian help, so to
say. Then the relationship will subtly change. That will be the
stage when Russia
starts crying over spilt milk.
China aspires to super power status at par with USA at some point in time.
This is unlikely to happen unless China is able to marginalise Russia and
Japan and to a lesser extent India. All these countries have geographic contiguity
with China. In the case of Japan, the sea between China and Japan makes them
contiguous. All three nations have the potential to challenge China in various
fields. Their respective spheres of economic and geopolitical influence in
and around the region impinge upon each other. Recent efforts by the Russian
leader to establish a more direct relationship with North Korea and the Koreas
in general could conceivably make China uncomfortable. Japan and the two
would look at the development differently, perhaps more benignly. Additionally,
China will emerge as a world power only after it has been able to incorporate
Taiwan. Lee Kuan Yew the elder statesman of Singapore put it succinctly in
an interview reported in Asiaweek Sep 22, 2000:
China does not disintegrate reunification is inevitable.
If China disintegrates
all bets are off".
apparently is quietly building a strategic relationship with
Iran. Russia has made an agreement
with Iran to supply about 4 billion US dollars worth of materiel
in the next few years to the Iranian armed forces. These include:
military aircraft, tanks, air defence systems and diesel submarines.
In early February 2000 Russia turned down an offer of $100 million
in aid from the US Department of Energy if it promised to end
the reprocessing of nuclear fuel and cancel the Bushehr project.
(Middle East International, no.629, March 10, 2000) The Bushehr
project would give a much-needed boost to Russian industry. It
is estimated at US$ 800 million.
At one point the US seemed to be persisting
with its efforts to prevent Russia, China and Iran from coming
closer in any combination between these countries.
The Russia-China-Iran axis cannot really emerge as a durable axis for more
reasons than one. It was developing primarily on account of the feeling in
Iran and Russia that they were being pushed into a corner by the Americans.
Should the moderates in Iran led by President Khatami succeed in their thrust
towards liberalisation and should the US, in turn, moderate its stance the
outcome could turn out differently. Initially the US strategic goal of total
control of Central Asian gas and oil aimed at excluding Russia and Iran by
any combination that would side step these countries. At that point the Afghan-Pakistan
corridor was being looked at favourably.
Major changes have taken place since
then. China's geo-strategic planning now aims - in the long-term,
if not immediately - at being the dominant power in
Central Asia. The early occupation of Tibet - and now an enfeebled Russia
- will permit China to do so through physical dominance of the
or by proxy. That proxy certainly cannot be Iran. It is the Pakistan-Afghanistan
axis that China seeks to exploit to the hilt in the coming years to checkmate
the other major powers having interests in the region. The strategy seems
to be working.
Iran's efforts to stem the Taliban tide
were impelled by geo-strategic and ideological imperatives. Russia
too must be feeling uncomfortable at China's
backing Pakistan with such vigour, and by extension the Taliban, with nuclear
and longer range missile technologies. While ostensibly these transfers were
meant to keep India engaged strategic thinkers in Russia, Turkey and Israel
have reportedly started feeling uncomfortable at the thought that they too
could become vulnerable to the same weapons systems under a more militant
AND CENTRAL ASIAN REPUBLICS
taking over as President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Putin
began to play a more active role in the
sphere of foreign policy. In May 2000, he had meetings with most
of the CIS leaders. Russia desisted from setting forth any global
or ideological agenda - in the manner of a superpower. The new
concept was one of multipolar system of international relations,
which objectively reflected the reality at the dawn of the new
century. Russia then embarked on a sweeping reshaping of its
relations with the former Soviet states, abandoning attempts
to resuscitate the Commonwealth of Independent States and preferring
instead to build alliances with its closest allies on the basis
of shared interests. The new strategy could aggravate splits
in the CIS. On the other hand it could start economic integration
among at least some of the CIS members.
Meeting in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan
in October last year the Presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan and Belarus, set up a new economic
trade zone, the Eurasian Economic Community. The five countries agreed to
gradually pull down economic barriers and encourage free movement
of goods, capital and
workforce. Russia showed willingness to put up with certain economic losses
resulting from the opening of the domestic market to its partners. Moscow
also forfeited the right to dominate the grouping, although it
will control 40 per
cent of the votes in the new union.
Soon after they formed the Eurasian Economic
Community the five former Soviet states, joined by Armenia, met
in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, to resuscitate
the 1992 Collective Security Treaty. The six nations resolved to set up a
rapid deployment military force to repulse both external aggression
insurgency. What is more important, Moscow agreed to supply weapons to its
allies at highly concessional rates. These new attempts at economic and military
integration are based on the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism in
Central Asia. The Taliban's recent military gains in Afghanistan
and incursions into
post-Soviet Central Asia convinced Moscow that the states in the region had
to be made strong enough to stand up to the threat of religious extremism
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union
in 1991 Ukraine had been drifting away from Russia and opposed
any CIS accords that could hamper this process. In
1999 Ukraine set up a NATO-oriented security arrangement with Georgia, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan, which refused to prolong the Collective Security Treaty with
Russia, as well as Moldova. The new alliance, GUUAM, which drew
its abbreviation from
the first letter of its member-states' names, was formally established in
Washington in May 1999 where its leaders attended celebrations
of the 50th anniversary
of NATO. From the start it favoured closer economic, political and military
cooperation with the West.
The establishment of the Eurasian Economic
Community and rekindling of the Collective Security Treaty highlighted
the split in the CIS into pro-Russia
and pro-NATO camps. The President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Islam Karimov, refused
to attend the Moscow-led summits in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and played
host instead to the Ukrainian President. At about the same time
pulled out of a consortium of Western-led companies that were planning to
build oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan to Turkey. The Russian
natural gas monopoly,
Gazprom, drew up plans to build a pipeline to Europe bypassing Ukraine. This
would cost Ukraine may millions of dollars in lost gas transit revenues.
Oil politics continue to dominate the region. The European and
US investments in
Central Asia have grown substantially in the past decade. However, due to
its geographic location and linguistic affinities, Russia is
better placed to assist
existing regimes in matters of defence and internal order.
An important indicator of changing attitudes
towards Russia in the region is the position of President Karimov
of Uzbekistan. In 1999 Karimov distanced
himself from the CIS by becoming a member of the NATO-sponsored GUUAM Pact
which united former Soviet Southern republics in a loose alliance. He also
refused to sign the CIS defence pact. Following major terrorist activity
in his territory, however and an attempt on his life, Karimov
has sought greater
cooperation with Russia in dealing with fundamentalist organisations. While
stressing the need to build up Uzbek military forces, he agreed to send Uzbek
officers for training at the military academy of the Russian Federation,
and ensured refurbishing of Uzbek hardware from Russia.
Russia cannot really shed its Soviet
legacy. It cannot opt out unilaterally. If it does, the vacuum
created in the CAR would, in all probability, be filled
by forces inimical to Russia. Putin's quandary is that he cannot afford to
leave them alone. Some of the CAR apparently feel obliged to seek accommodation
with the Taliban. Not because they welcome the Taliban, but owing to their
successes in Afghanistan. Hence unless Russia acts resolutely to reassure
them of its capability to safeguard the CARs territorial integrity
it will oblige
them to look elsewhere.
US was able to get out of Vietnam after the defeat at the hands
of the Vietcong, practically abandoning
all military and non-military assets in situ. Whatever the mess,
it turned out to be a 'clean break'. No such luxury was available
to Russia on account of geographical contiguity and a host of
other factors that have already been touched upon earlier on
in the paper. Russia is now in the forefront of the global efforts
to contain the Taliban and the potential for terrorism emanating
from that country. For the time being the US backs Russia in
its efforts. The US being far away cannot experience the immediacy
of the threat. At the moment its short-term interest appears
to be limited to the extradition of Bin Laden. Not realising
that thousands and possibly tens of thousands of die-hard jehadis
coming out of the madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan are potential
Bin Laden clones.
Russia really does not have much of a
choice in the matter. Either it is successful in containing the
militant Islamic threat or it watches as more and more regions
in Central Asia and Russia itself go the Chechnya way. The dilemma is very
real. It has been amply demonstrated in Vietnam and Afghanistan that advanced
military technology - of itself - while it can flatten a country and destroy
its infrastructure by the use of aircraft and missiles cannot adequately
with small, well-motivated guerrilla bands. More so, in mountainous and jungle
terrain, should capture of territory be the real objective. Radical groups
bent upon mayhem require well-trained troops to flush them out in close quarter
combat where body count matters. Casualties in men can be high. This is where
Russia has to take a firm decision since it cannot afford to expend manpower.
The strategy of the opponents is to make the battle manpower heavy, which
hurts Russia with a declining population much more than it does
the adversary. The
Russians cannot sustain more and more manpower losses. Therefore, that country
would be left with no option but to strike at source by delineating a line,
which if breached by the jehadis in Afghanistan, or their backers,
would automatically invite massive high tech precision retaliation.
The retaliation would be limited
to training camps and such assets that allow the other side to pursue its
northward thrust into the CAR or territory held by the Northern
Alliance in Afghanistan.
The defence relationship between Japan and Russia is likely to grow, driven
by a wariness of China. This could be greatly strengthened by increased economic
cooperation. Raw fossil fuels and the resources locked up in the coldness of
Siberia have long beckoned Japan's hungry industry. Japanese businessmen continue
to show reluctance on account of the complicated political relations between
the two countries. Japan is anxious to see tangible progress towards the return
of the four islands known to the world as the Kuriles: more precisely the islands
of Shikotan, the Habomai cluster, Kunashiri and Etorofu. In 1855, towards the
end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan and Russia signed a treaty of friendship,
drawing a border between the northern most of the four islands, Etorofu, and
Russia's Urup Island. During the period leading to the Japanese surrender in
September 1945, the Soviets grabbed all four islands. In 1956, during the establishment
of diplomatic relations, Japan and Russia signed the Moscow Declaration. It
calls for Russia returning Habomai and Shikotan when the peace treaty is signed.
The fate of the other two islands was not mentioned.
After many ups and downs Japan coaxed Russia
in 1993 to again formally acknowledge the existence of a territorial
dispute. Later during the Hashimoto visit to
Russia he mooted the idea of 'land for money'. Japan would invest in infrastructure
in the Russian Far East and could buy natural gas at cheaper prices, and
improve Russia's ports, harbours and other facilities on the disputed
islands. In return,
Mr. Yeltsin agreed to sign a document saying both leaders would do their
best in order to conclude a peace treaty by 2000. There were further
Mr. Yeltsin's visit to Japan in 1998. In spite of all the parleys there really
has not been any satisfactory forward movement in this issue from the Japanese
In the coming years these countries will have
to shed their past antipathy and take a fresh look at the emerging
geopolitical scene in Asia and the world.
Both countries are global players. They might have to make fresh assessments
about their global role. Although the possibility may appear remote at the
moment, China through tacit support to the Pakistan-Taliban axis as well
as its direct investments in Kazakhstan, especially in the oil
sector, is getting
poised to dominate the Central Asian region at some future date. They have
already consolidated their hold over Tibet. Neither Japan nor Russia would
view this development with equanimity. For both countries China appears to
be the bigger worry in the future rather than any misgivings about each other.
The Russian relationship with India would
be seen by many as a near perfect relationship on account of
the absence of dissonance on almost any count, be it trade, geopolitical
interests or any other sphere that is included in relations between
countries. Not being geographically contiguous cross border irritants
also get excluded. To add to this, at the present time both countries
are threatened by militant Islamic groups sallying forth from
the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. There appears to be a national
consensus in both countries on closer cooperation.
To quote Professor Sergei Lunyov, a leading specialist at the Institute of
"We must never forget that Russia and India are natural geopolitical allies.
There is a lot of momentum in the relationship."
The Russian proposal for a North-South Transport Corridor on establishing
a railroad-cum-ferry link between Russia and India through several other
has been well received. The Indian Transport Minister has recently signed
an agreement in St Petersburg pledging Indian cooperation in implementing
project, estimated to cost nearly $2 billion. It will cut delivery time from
India to Russia by 10 to 15 days and save about 30 per cent in shipping costs.
Originating in Helsinki and proceeding via St Petersburg, Moscow, Astharkhan,
the Caspian Sea, Iran, UAE to India – the Corridor will also open up
markets for Indian goods in eastern Europe.
Russian soul, if it could be examined closely, would in all probability
be composed of a European half
and an Asian half. Over the centuries there have been various
pulls and pressures from both halves. After the advent of Peter
the Great the European half predominated for a long time. In
the new century the pulls and pressures could become even more
exaggerated. According to George Lucas, "Emergent capitalism
appeared as an important factor in the formation of European
nations. After profound revolutionary struggles, it transformed
the chaos of small medieval feudal governments into great nations
in the most capitalistically developed part of Europe".
(George Lucas, Lenin) Individual countries of Europe- those
who had the means that is- expanded across the world in the
19th and 20th centuries. The second half of the twentieth century
saw the retraction of the European powers by stages. Therefore,
the retraction of Russia from Asia nearly forty years after
the European colonial powers felt it prudent to pull out -
forced out - follows a pattern, except that Russia happens
geographically to embrace both continents. The stakes for Russia
in Asia remain
enormous as an existential imperative.
In the late fifties, American researcher Harold R Isaacs wrote, "The
European age has ended. The centre of gravity in world affairs has shifted,
Europe has to be seen as a peninsula at one end of the great Eurasian continent".
Surprisingly - perhaps not so surprisingly - while the importance of Asia
could continue to grow it would be wrong to presume therefrom that Asian
facto denotes a downsizing of European importance. It would have been the
case had the cold war continued. The demise of the Soviet Union confers upon
a whole range of exciting options provided the Old Continent breaks away
from the deeply ingrained habit of looking at the world from an American
as a US appendage. It need no longer be the case.
It is time for Europe to get out of the shadow of America. It was America's
pushing of its own agenda for world dominance that has prevented Europe from
having a European worldview for the 21st century. A historical turning point
has now been reached. Several new vistas open up on Europe's geopolitical horizon
at the end of the cold war. Most military experts concede that Europe does
not face any real military threat in the foreseeable future. While this does
not mean that Europe should lower its military guard it does mean that Europe
should feel free to have an independent strategic vision based on what is good
for Europe and the European neighbourhood, which is basically Asia and Africa.
NATO, after all, came into being because of the Soviet menace. Russia by itself
cannot possibly regain the same geographic, demographic or military mass.
Russia has to be co-opted into the European strategic vision. Going a step
further, its leaders should envision a Europe stretching from Calais to Vladivostok.
Europe would then stretch not from the Atlantic to the Urals, but in a grand
sweep from Atlantic to the Pacific. Examined dispassionately, freed from the
cold war mindset, the proposal envisages a pivotal role for the extended European
Union as one of the most significant pillars of the global equipoise of the
new millennium. Any number of difficulties can be conjured up by skeptics and
naysayers. European statesman should seize the initiative to usher in a new
era. The Russian leadership can hardly be averse to the idea once it sinks
in. The Russian people would be enthusiastic to it. As possibly would be the
average European citizen.
At some stage the Russian nuclear arsenal could be integrated into a common
European defence as a measure of global stability. Thereafter, the process
of nuclear disarmament would gather momentum. The P5 negotiating entities could,
through a process of give and take, become just three major negotiating entities,
namely, USA, the enlarged European Union and China. In anticipation of the
possible turn of events in the direction indicated, Russia and Europe should
join hands to prevent another cold war from descending on the world. The more
menacing cold war that is sought to be imposed unilaterally by the USA on a
world that has barely begun to recover from the aftermath of the previous one.
Europe occupies a unique position in the East-West dialogue. It should encourage
Russia to resist acceding to American blandishments for diluting the 1972 ABM
Treaty, a cornerstone of the global equipoise that nearly came into being before
the US started once again flexing its military muscle. Should Europe decide
to resolutely oppose the American NMD and TMD deployments - as it is instinctively
inclined to do - the US would hardly be in a position to initiate a new arms
race, one more terrifying in some ways than the earlier one after the second
world war. Europe must remember that should a free for all take place on account
of the nuclear and missile proliferation that would surely follow a NMD deployment
decision the battle-ground for any conflagration would be the Eurasian landmass.
America is smug and secure beyond the oceans. Europe's vulnerability was during
the cold war - and will remain in any future war - an order of magnitude higher
than that of USA. The Americans are aware of that. So, for that matter, are
the Europeans. And yet the 'conditioned' inertia.
To quote from the 'Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation
which was approved by the President, Mr. Putin on June 28, 2000:
"The Russian Federation views the EU as one of its main political and economic
partners and will strive to develop with it an intensive, stable and long-term
cooperation devoid of expediency fluctuations".
"If President Bill Clinton had
all his wits about him he would challenge the toughest hard liners
on the Republican right to posit a plausible scenario for modern
day Russia wanting to go to war with the West. Can anyone really
make a case that if the USA dropped its guard — and its
nuclear allies Britain and France did too — that Russia
would move into western Europe and bomb America's industrial
heart-lands? It is simply intellectually outrageous, which is
why no one spells it out". So wrote Jonathan Power in an
article in The Statesman, June 2, 2000.
Russia was down - and almost out - at the end of the cold war. The US obviously
wanted at that stage to give a coup de grace to the rump Russia; not satisfied
even after the break up of the Soviet Union. Had it sat back to consider its
future course of action with wisdom and maturity it would have realised that
the course that it adopted for dealing with Russia was not the one to take.
Once again the American military industrial complex forced the issue. Many
in Europe voiced their misgivings. As had been its wont in the past the US
brushed aside all objections - which in any case were put forward only tentatively,
such being the status of the once proud Europeans now herded into collective
The quote that follows is from the Russell Einstein Manifesto, the
credo of Pugwash that was issued in July 1955 and was signed by 11 distinguished
scientists most of them Nobel Prize winners. They drew attention to mankind's
predicament in language that was, in a way, prophetic:
" We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation,
continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species man, whose continued
existence is in doubt…"
and called upon scientists to:
"remember your humanity and forget the rest"
The US government failed to respond to this sane piece of advice and went on
instead to usher in a global arms race that brought the planet to the brink
of disaster more than once in one of the most tense periods of world history.
It ended with the end of the cold war, or so it seemed at that time. Now, after
fifty years, the American government seems bent upon starting another arms
spiral, far more menacing than the earlier one, by its insistence on going
ahead unilaterally with the deployment of National and Theatre Missile Defence.
Zbigniew, Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter, in a recent
article, has remarked:
" The US has never followed a genuinely universal and non-discriminatory
policy of halting proliferation. In fact, US policy all along has been that of
selective and preferential proliferation…"
In the 43rd session of the UN General
Assembly, a typical year, the US voted against all of the 25
resolutions to enhance international security and for disarmament.
The western democracies in general and the US establishment in
particular have yet not grasped the real import of the altered
global reality. That the USA and Russia need no longer look at
each other as adversaries but as partners in bringing about an
end to all types of threats hanging over the viability of the
Planet. What is being witnessed is the latent effect of the cold
war era continuing to manifest itself in the military-industrial
complex of the former adversaries. As things stand now, and projecting
the same template well into the future, it is difficult to see
as to how Russia can again match the might of the United States.
Russia can become a strong medium to high ranking power, but
not a super power in the 21st century. China could, at some stage
reach fairly close to the super power status. It will still not
be able to match the might of the United States if one goes by
the criterion of a super power described at the beginning of
the presentation. The only grouping that could surpass - not
challenge - the United States by the same criteria would be a
European Union stretching from the Atlantic to Vladivostok. Such
an entity if it does come about could be the harbinger of the
equipoise of the third millennium.